St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County

Building the bridge to a zero-waste world

Lead Organization

St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County

Eugene, Oregon, United States

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Across the United States billions of tons of still-usable materials go into urban landfills and incinerators every year because too much is discarded to be absorbed where it is generated. Clothing, books, furniture, housewares and tools get taken to dumps by individuals, by nonprofits that operate thrift stores, by manufacturers and retailers too busy to seek more sustainable solutions. Meanwhile in rural areas, quality retailers have declined, leaving consumers with the sole option of cheap dollar-store products that quickly become waste. We will identify the areas with the richest available materials and the rural communities most in need of quality affordable products and then we will create the transportation infrastructure to link them. This system will create jobs for those with barriers to employment in both rural and urban areas, enhance rural economies, and preserve the embodied energy of the materials salvaged for reuse.

Problem Statement

Urban communities are drowning in two much stuff. Meanwhile rural communities are losing retailers, access to quality affordable goods and jobs. Both suffer. Urban waste managers need to preserve their landfill space for actual waste. Sustainability directors want to implement circular-economy and zero-waste initiatives. Rural communities need to create jobs and find ways to maintain and grow their economies. Because we divert materials from major urban areas and operate stores in medium and small communities, we know that our solution -- providing the warehousing and trucking infrastructure to move stuff from where it isn't needed to places where it is, can have profoundly positive impacts for both sides of this equation.An example: Retailer Williams Sonoma in California had a Bay Area warehouse so packed with returns and discontinued materials they couldn't function. They invited nonprofits in their area to glean those materials, but none accepted because they didn't need more stuff. Williams Sonoma heard about us and contacted us in Oregon. We knew that shipping these products to our markets would improve our sales by providing our customers with items they don't normally see in thrift stores. And because we have thrift stores in tiny markets (communities with less than 5,000 residents), we knew these products would be a real boon.Sustainability activists seek to alter the nation's consumption behavior. We agree that needs to be done. But while we wait for this cultural shift, we can solve the materials glut by moving usables to the right place.

Solution Overview

We will select 20 large metropolitan areas and set up warehouses to store and process reusable material gleaned there. We will create a national trucking fleet to move these materials to the places where they are most needed. We will identify 60 rural communities where the retail and job-creation opportunities are most needed and we will ship the reusables there. We will own and operate the stores we set up in these rural towns to sell these products, but we will divert all of the net revenue to a nonprofit agency in each rural community with missions that address job-creation, poverty alleviation and/or homelessness. We will also operate one flagship store in each urban area.We currently divert 100 tons of materials daily, about 36,000 tons a year. Based on that we believe the 20 metropolitan areas where we set up, could easily triple the materials we are diverting When we are fully operational, we anticipate being able to divert about 2 million tons of materials annually.About 25 percent of those materials will sell in stores for an average price of $.90/lb. About 60 percent of the product will sell in the secondary commodities market for about .08/lb.Urban employment will total 230 and rural employment will total 1000.Once this system is up and running it is self-sustaining. Even more important, other competitive nonprofits will see the value of cross-country distribution and follow our lead.

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Project Funders

  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2011 - 2019
  • REDF

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